US20140262685A1 - Continuous Motion Article Arranging Systems and Methods - Google Patents

Continuous Motion Article Arranging Systems and Methods Download PDF

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Publication number
US20140262685A1
US20140262685A1 US14/215,143 US201414215143A US2014262685A1 US 20140262685 A1 US20140262685 A1 US 20140262685A1 US 201414215143 A US201414215143 A US 201414215143A US 2014262685 A1 US2014262685 A1 US 2014262685A1
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US
United States
Prior art keywords
articles
downstream
end effector
manipulation device
group
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Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Abandoned
Application number
US14/215,143
Inventor
Matthew A. Job
Craig Kirkpatrick
Christopher Ray
Roger Johnston
Brett A. Stripe
Current Assignee (The listed assignees may be inaccurate. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy of the list.)
Illinois Tool Works Inc
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Illinois Tool Works Inc
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Application filed by Illinois Tool Works Inc filed Critical Illinois Tool Works Inc
Priority to US14/215,143 priority Critical patent/US20140262685A1/en
Priority to PCT/US2014/030177 priority patent/WO2014145412A2/en
Publication of US20140262685A1 publication Critical patent/US20140262685A1/en
Assigned to ILLINOIS TOOL WORKS INC. reassignment ILLINOIS TOOL WORKS INC. ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST (SEE DOCUMENT FOR DETAILS). Assignors: JOB, MATTHEW A., JOHNSTON, Roger, KIRKPATRICK, Craig, RAY, CHRISTOPHER, STRIPE, Brett A.
Priority to US14/945,737 priority patent/US9856092B2/en
Abandoned legal-status Critical Current

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Classifications

    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G47/00Article or material-handling devices associated with conveyors; Methods employing such devices
    • B65G47/02Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors
    • B65G47/04Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles
    • B65G47/06Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles from a single group of articles arranged in orderly pattern, e.g. workpieces in magazines
    • B65G47/08Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles from a single group of articles arranged in orderly pattern, e.g. workpieces in magazines spacing or grouping the articles during feeding
    • B65G47/084Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles from a single group of articles arranged in orderly pattern, e.g. workpieces in magazines spacing or grouping the articles during feeding grouping articles in a predetermined 2-dimensional pattern
    • B65G47/088Devices for feeding articles or materials to conveyors for feeding articles from a single group of articles arranged in orderly pattern, e.g. workpieces in magazines spacing or grouping the articles during feeding grouping articles in a predetermined 2-dimensional pattern cylindrical articles
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G47/00Article or material-handling devices associated with conveyors; Methods employing such devices
    • B65G47/22Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors
    • B65G47/26Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors arranging the articles, e.g. varying spacing between individual articles
    • B65G47/28Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors arranging the articles, e.g. varying spacing between individual articles during transit by a single conveyor
    • B65G47/29Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors arranging the articles, e.g. varying spacing between individual articles during transit by a single conveyor by temporarily stopping movement
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J15/00Gripping heads and other end effectors
    • B25J15/02Gripping heads and other end effectors servo-actuated
    • B25J15/0253Gripping heads and other end effectors servo-actuated comprising parallel grippers
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J9/00Programme-controlled manipulators
    • B25J9/0093Programme-controlled manipulators co-operating with conveyor means
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G43/00Control devices, e.g. for safety, warning or fault-correcting
    • B65G43/08Control devices operated by article or material being fed, conveyed or discharged
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G47/00Article or material-handling devices associated with conveyors; Methods employing such devices
    • B65G47/22Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors
    • B65G47/24Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors orientating the articles
    • B65G47/244Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors orientating the articles by turning them about an axis substantially perpendicular to the conveying plane
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G47/00Article or material-handling devices associated with conveyors; Methods employing such devices
    • B65G47/22Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors
    • B65G47/26Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors arranging the articles, e.g. varying spacing between individual articles
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G47/00Article or material-handling devices associated with conveyors; Methods employing such devices
    • B65G47/22Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors
    • B65G47/26Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors arranging the articles, e.g. varying spacing between individual articles
    • B65G47/28Devices influencing the relative position or the attitude of articles during transit by conveyors arranging the articles, e.g. varying spacing between individual articles during transit by a single conveyor
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G47/00Article or material-handling devices associated with conveyors; Methods employing such devices
    • B65G47/74Feeding, transfer, or discharging devices of particular kinds or types
    • B65G47/90Devices for picking-up and depositing articles or materials
    • B65G47/904Devices for picking-up and depositing articles or materials provided with rotary movements only
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B21/00Packaging or unpacking of bottles
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65GTRANSPORT OR STORAGE DEVICES, e.g. CONVEYORS FOR LOADING OR TIPPING, SHOP CONVEYOR SYSTEMS OR PNEUMATIC TUBE CONVEYORS
    • B65G2201/00Indexing codes relating to handling devices, e.g. conveyors, characterised by the type of product or load being conveyed or handled
    • B65G2201/02Articles
    • B65G2201/0235Containers
    • B65G2201/0244Bottles

Definitions

  • the present disclosure relates generally to arranging articles provided on a conveyor using a continuous motion device.
  • Articles such as beverages or other consumer product containers are often wrapped in packages holding a number of the articles before they are placed on a pallet or divided into laned flows. Therefore, groupings of 6, 12 or 24 bottles for example may be created and held together via stretch or shrink wrapped plastic, boxes, and/or blanks. These groupings are then oriented in some fashion to create a pallet load or laned flow.
  • the groupings are fed out of a wrapping or other packaging source individually in a uniform fashion (all aligned the same way) and at a uniform rate (all at the same speed and with the same spacing between them).
  • Various devices have been proposed to take the groupings in such a uniform stream and to place them as desired laterally within the stream (for example by moving a grouping left or right from a feed location) and to orient them within the stream (for example by turning a grouping 90 degrees) such that they form a desired pallet layer downstream or such that they are placed into lanes for further processing downstream.
  • Such concepts can also apply to individual articles, such as boxes, that are to be palletized.
  • an article may be a single item (such as a box or other item) or may include a grouping or articles such as a twelve-pack grouping of containers.
  • Such placement and orientation can be provided by robot arms, by gantry devices, by orienting conveyors, by pushers or other equipment, or even by hand.
  • the end effectors may have an optional grasping function, wherein an article can be grasped between two opposing plates and the article can then be moved to a desired location and/or oriented in a desired way.
  • One or both of the plates can move so that the article is squeezed just tightly enough to move and place the article, and each such article is moved and placed individually.
  • flow enters from the left as shown on a first conveyor 10 is transferred to a higher speed gapping conveyor 12 to spread out articles in the direction of travel, and is transferred to a further conveyor 14 where orientation occurs in some fashion.
  • articles A1, A2 and A3 may or may not be substantially spread apart, while articles A4-A9 are uniformly spread apart.
  • Such arrangement would typically occur where a constant speed gapping conveyor 12 and further conveyor 14 are running faster than constant speed first conveyor 10 .
  • individual articles are placed and oriented one at a time, as noted above.
  • gapping conveyor 12 is a “surge” conveyor driven at a non-constant speed in order to group two articles more closely together for handling at once to save placement steps in forming a pallet layer or in laning.
  • use of a non-constant speed conveyor 12 can introduce stability issues for articles, and the ultimate placement of articles on conveyor 14 may be inconsistent due to acceleration and frictional issues.
  • a system for arranging articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor.
  • the system may include an object manipulation device movable and configured to form a group of two of the articles in the line together by contacting and slowing the more downstream of the two articles and then contacting the more upstream of the two articles without substantially slowing the more upstream article.
  • an end effector for an object manipulation device for arranging together into a group two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor.
  • the end effector may include a head portion for attachment to the object manipulation device; two lateral side portions attached to the head portion and spaced for receiving the two articles; and a downstream stop portion for contacting a downstream side of at least one of the two articles.
  • a method is disclosed of using an object manipulation device to arrange two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor.
  • the method may include contacting the more downstream of the two articles; slowing the more downstream of the two articles; and maintaining contact with the more downstream of the two articles while contacting the more upstream of the two articles without substantially slowing the more upstream article to form a group of the two articles.
  • FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a system for arranging streams of articles according to certain aspects of the present disclosure and having an object manipulation device with a first end effector.
  • FIG. 2 is a side view of the system of FIG. 1 .
  • FIG. 3 is a close-up perspective view of a portion of the system of FIG. 1 .
  • FIG. 4 is a bottom view of one end effector usable with the system of FIG. 1 .
  • FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional view of the end effector of FIG. 4 .
  • FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the system as in FIG. 1 , having a second end effector.
  • FIGS. 7A-7D are schematic representations of the possible steps used in arranging two groups of articles according to the disclosure.
  • FIG. 8 is a schematic representation of one possible flow along conveyors while groups of articles are arranged according to the disclosure.
  • FIG. 9 is a perspective view of the system as in FIG. 1 , having a third end effector.
  • FIG. 10 is a bottom view of the end effector of FIG. 9 .
  • FIGS. 11A-11D are schematic representations of possible steps used in arranging two articles using the systems of FIGS. 1-10 .
  • FIG. 12 is a schematic representation of another possible flow along conveyors while groups of articles are arranged according to the disclosure.
  • FIGS. 13A and 13B are schematic representations of flow along conveyors according to conventional methods.
  • FIGS. 1 through 12 show examples of systems, end effectors and methods for arranging articles within a stream of articles moving along a conveyor into groups of at least two articles.
  • the group of articles can be arranged as desired on a conveyor by an object manipulation device such as a robot arm or gantry device for inclusion within a pallet layer or for laning.
  • the grouping can occur in a constant speed environment. All articles need not be grouped, and need not be grouped in pairs. However, grouping allows for fewer object manipulation device movements to orient a pallet layer or control laning. Accordingly, by reducing the number of object manipulation device movements, the pallet layer or laning can be arranged more quickly.
  • the included conveyors may be able to be run at a substantially higher linear speed than conventional conveyors because substantially fewer object manipulation device movements are needed.
  • a system 100 may include one or more object manipulation devices such as the illustrated robot arm assemblies 102 or such as gantry devices.
  • Each object manipulation device has an end effector assembly 104 for arranging articles received from a feed conveyor 106 while being transmitted on a pallet layer forming or laning conveyor 108 .
  • Feed conveyor 106 may be a gapping conveyor or may be downstream from a gapping conveyor. Alternatively, no gapping conveyor could be present, and other methods of spacing articles could be used, such as a pin conveyor, a diverter, gating, etc.
  • articles 110 include multiple containers 112 .
  • Such containers 112 could be held together in any conventional fashion or could be held within a box or carton. Therefore, it should be understood that articles 100 could be any palletable or lanable items and could instead be individual items such as boxes.
  • Articles 110 are fed along feed conveyor 106 to reach a position near object manipulation device 102 .
  • the illustrated device, robot arm assembly 102 may be mounted on support structure 114 that may be adjacent to either feed 106 or pallet layer forming or laning conveyor 108 , or it may extend atop either, depending on the application as discussed below.
  • end effector assembly 104 includes a head portion 116 attached to an end 118 of the object manipulation device 102 .
  • Head potion 116 and end 118 may be, if desired, readily disassembled to switch to a different end effector (see end effector 204 in FIG. 6 and end effector 304 in FIG. 9 ) if different articles or groupings are to be used.
  • End effector 104 also includes two lateral side portions 120 .
  • One or both side portions 120 may be, but need not be, movably attached to head portion 116 .
  • side portions 120 are plates that can both be driven back and forth via a mechanism, which may be for example gears 122 and a chain 124 driven by a motor 128 .
  • gears 122 and a chain 124 driven by a motor 128 .
  • other mechanisms could be used such as gears, belts, hydraulics, pneumatics, etc., to move one or both side portions.
  • Side portions 120 if movable relative to head portion 116 , can grip two articles 110 a and 110 b once they are placed together.
  • a downstream stop portion 126 is attached to head portion 116 . Stop portion 126 contacts a downstream side of the more downstream article 110 b on conveyor 108 . Stop portion 126 need not be driven relative to head portion 116 , but could be if desired.
  • Object manipulation device 102 moves along conveyor 108 so that the more downstream article 110 b is contacted and at least slowed until the more upstream of the two articles 110 a contacts the end effector via contacting the more downstream article 110 b .
  • object manipulation device 102 is moved along conveyor 108 such that the contact between articles 110 a and 110 b occurs without substantially slowing the more upstream article 110 a.
  • End effector 104 may be moved laterally (arrow a), along conveying direction (arrow b), or rotated (arrow c) as desired to place the articles so that a pallet layer or desired laning may be formed downstream in a desired pattern.
  • continuous motion along conveyor 108 at or about the speed of the conveyor is substantially maintained, and the throughput can beneficially be higher than if full stoppage were achieved or a non-constant speed gapping conveyor were used.
  • FIG. 6 shows system 100 with an alternate end effector 204 .
  • three articles 110 a , 110 b , and 110 c are being grouped between side portions 220 .
  • Two stop portions 226 a and 226 b are provided, each attached to one of side portions 220 instead of head portion 216 , although only one stop portion could be provided attached to only one side portion or head portion.
  • end effector 204 The operation of system 100 using end effector 204 is substantially similar as using end effector 104 .
  • end effector 204 could be used to group only two larger articles 100 (for example 24 containers) instead of three articles of 12 containers as shown.
  • FIGS. 7A-7D show one example of grouping of two articles 110 a and 110 b using end effector 104 .
  • stop portion 126 briefly slows article 110 b until article 110 a contacts end effector 104 via contacting article 110 b .
  • End effector 104 then moves up and out of the way without gripping by side portions 120 , although if desired the articles could be moved, gripped and/or arranged differently by sliding or rotating (either with or without gripping).
  • FIG. 8 shows a conveyor 106 which may be a constant feed gapping conveyor downstream of another conveyor 105 , which may be for example, the outlet of a shrink tunnel, another packaging conveyor, or any supply conveyor.
  • Conveyor 108 is driven at a speed similar to or the same as conveyor 106 while end effector 104 contacts and groups articles A6 and A7 via contact with stop portion 126, as shown.
  • Articles A8 and A9 are grouped, and may have been arranged by end effector 104 as well.
  • FIG. 9 shows system 100 with an alternate end effector 304 .
  • end effector includes a head portion 316 , two lateral side portions 320 , and a divider 321 .
  • Divider 321 may be a plate as shown. Divider 321 could alternatively be other structures such as rods, multiple smaller plates, etc.
  • End effector 304 is particularly suited to but not limited to use with articles that are substantially longer than they are wide, such as a 6 ⁇ 2 can carton.
  • FIG. 10 shows end effector 304 from below.
  • divider 321 may be located between lateral side portions 320 and upstream of and perpendicular to stop portion 326 .
  • divider 321 may include a holding plate 323 on the end opposite stop portion extending toward one or both lateral side portions to assist in holding articles with end effector 304 during positioning on conveyor 108 .
  • Divider 321 also assists in holding and aligning articles 310 a and 310 b , but may not be needed to grip and align two articles in all facets of the invention.
  • end effector 304 may simply be a modified “modular” version of end effector 104 . If so, a change out of stop portion 126 for stop portion 326 /plate 321 /plate 323 can be used to convert end effector 104 to end effector 304 .
  • Cooperative attachment hardware could be provided on heads 116 / 316 and stop portions 126 / 326 for a rapid changeover in case different articles are to be run in system 100 .
  • FIG. 9 shows plates 325 on head 316 removably attached to mounting plates 327 of plate 326 via four twist-lock handles 329 . Similar structure (not shown) could be used on heads 116 and 216 , if desired.
  • FIGS. 11A-11D show an example of grouping articles 310 a and 310 b using end effector 304 .
  • stop portion 326 briefly slows article 310 b ( FIG. 11B ).
  • End effector 304 moves at least partially laterally, with holding plate 323 ensuring that article 310 b remains within end effector 304 .
  • Article 310 a then moves into end effector 304 until it also contacts stop portion 326 .
  • articles 310 a and 310 b are located between lateral side portions 320 with divider 321 between them ( FIG. 11C ).
  • Side portions 320 may be moved inwardly toward articles 310 a and 310 b , either individually after an article is received or together after both articles are received, to secure the articles within end effector 304 .
  • articles 310 a and 310 b overlap.
  • head 304 has been rotated 90 degrees and articles 310 a and 310 b have been accordingly rotated 90 degrees so they are both visible.
  • end effector 304 will move laterally after contacting article 310 b so that article 310 a can fit within end effector 304 on the opposite side of divider 321 . If articles are being fed in a staggered line, such lateral movement could be unnecessary.
  • FIG. 12 shows schematically the manipulation of articles so as to form side-by-side groupings.
  • stop portion 326 of end effector 304 first contacts a downstream article (A7) to slow it while an upstream article (A6) slides into position within end effector 304 .
  • Articles A8 and A9 are laterally arranged in a group (but not rotated as in FIG. 11D ), as are articles A10 and A11.
  • any suitable arrangement of articles can be achieved, limited only by the downstream packaging capabilities or desires of the facility.
  • the various end effectors disclosed can be used to arrange one, two, three or more articles at a time, as desired for a given algorithm.
  • any of the systems noted above can be mixed or matched for any particular desired application.
  • use of the object manipulation devices such as robot arm assemblies or gantry devices, end effectors, methods and systems herein are not limited to any of the particular arrangements disclosed herein.
  • Any number of robot arm assemblies could be employed.
  • FANUC Robotics M420iA or M710iC/50H Robot Arm Assemblies could be used, along with Fanuc Robotics R30iA or R30iB Robot Controllers.
  • various types of commercially available gantry devices could be employed.
  • Programmable Logic Controllers for the systems could be provided by Rockwell Automation/Allen-Bradley, such as CompactLogix or ControlLogix Controllers.
  • Rockwell Automation RSView 5000 software or others could also be employed in such system, if desired.
  • the present invention therefore also includes a method of using an object manipulation device such as a robot arm or gantry device to arrange two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor 108 .
  • the method may include contacting the more downstream 110 b , 110 c , 310 b of the two articles, slowing the more downstream of the two articles, and maintaining contact with the more downstream article while contacting the more upstream article 110 a , 110 b , 110 c , 310 a without substantially slowing the more upstream article.
  • the contacting step can as discussed include using an end effector 104 , 204 , 304 having two lateral side portions 120 , 220 , 320 and a downstream stop portion 126 , 226 a , 226 b , 326 .
  • the downstream stop portion may contact a downstream side of the more downstream article.
  • the method can involve arranging the articles along the conveying direction or across the conveying direction within the end effector 104 , 204 , 304 .
  • the method can include change out of the end effector 104 , 204 , 304 for another end effector so as to allow for different articles to be handled.
  • the method can also include changing out elements of the end effector 104 , 204 , 304 such as downstream stop portion assemblies (with or without dividing plates 321 ) to allow for different articles to be handled without removing the entire head assembly from end 118 of the robot arm assembly or a gantry device 102 .
  • elements of the end effector 104 , 204 , 304 such as downstream stop portion assemblies (with or without dividing plates 321 ) to allow for different articles to be handled without removing the entire head assembly from end 118 of the robot arm assembly or a gantry device 102 .

Abstract

A system, method and an end effector may arrange into a group two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor. The system, method, and end effector may contact and slow the more downstream of the two articles and then contact the more upstream of the two articles without substantially slowing the more upstream article to form the group. The end effector may include a downstream stop portion for contacting at least one of the articles.

Description

    RELATED APPLICATIONS
  • This application claims filing benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/787,779 having a filing date of Mar. 15, 2013, which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
  • TECHNICAL FIELD
  • The present disclosure relates generally to arranging articles provided on a conveyor using a continuous motion device.
  • BACKGROUND
  • Articles such as beverages or other consumer product containers are often wrapped in packages holding a number of the articles before they are placed on a pallet or divided into laned flows. Therefore, groupings of 6, 12 or 24 bottles for example may be created and held together via stretch or shrink wrapped plastic, boxes, and/or blanks. These groupings are then oriented in some fashion to create a pallet load or laned flow.
  • Typically, the groupings are fed out of a wrapping or other packaging source individually in a uniform fashion (all aligned the same way) and at a uniform rate (all at the same speed and with the same spacing between them). Various devices have been proposed to take the groupings in such a uniform stream and to place them as desired laterally within the stream (for example by moving a grouping left or right from a feed location) and to orient them within the stream (for example by turning a grouping 90 degrees) such that they form a desired pallet layer downstream or such that they are placed into lanes for further processing downstream. Such concepts can also apply to individual articles, such as boxes, that are to be palletized. Thus, as noted herein an article may be a single item (such as a box or other item) or may include a grouping or articles such as a twelve-pack grouping of containers.
  • Such placement and orientation can be provided by robot arms, by gantry devices, by orienting conveyors, by pushers or other equipment, or even by hand. When robot arms or gantry devices are used, the end effectors may have an optional grasping function, wherein an article can be grasped between two opposing plates and the article can then be moved to a desired location and/or oriented in a desired way. One or both of the plates can move so that the article is squeezed just tightly enough to move and place the article, and each such article is moved and placed individually.
  • In one common system, as shown in FIG. 13A, flow enters from the left as shown on a first conveyor 10, is transferred to a higher speed gapping conveyor 12 to spread out articles in the direction of travel, and is transferred to a further conveyor 14 where orientation occurs in some fashion. Note that articles A1, A2 and A3 may or may not be substantially spread apart, while articles A4-A9 are uniformly spread apart. Such arrangement would typically occur where a constant speed gapping conveyor 12 and further conveyor 14 are running faster than constant speed first conveyor 10. In such a conventional system, individual articles are placed and oriented one at a time, as noted above.
  • In another conventional system of FIG. 13B, gapping conveyor 12 is a “surge” conveyor driven at a non-constant speed in order to group two articles more closely together for handling at once to save placement steps in forming a pallet layer or in laning. However, use of a non-constant speed conveyor 12 can introduce stability issues for articles, and the ultimate placement of articles on conveyor 14 may be inconsistent due to acceleration and frictional issues.
  • Accordingly, improved methods and systems would be welcome for arranging articles on a conveyor for forming a pallet layer or laning, addressing drawbacks of conventional systems or other issues.
  • SUMMARY
  • Aspects and advantages of the invention will be set forth in part in the following description, or may be obvious from the description, or may be learned through practice of the invention.
  • According to certain aspects of the present disclosure, a system is disclosed for arranging articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor. The system may include an object manipulation device movable and configured to form a group of two of the articles in the line together by contacting and slowing the more downstream of the two articles and then contacting the more upstream of the two articles without substantially slowing the more upstream article. Various options and modifications are possible.
  • According to certain other aspects of the disclosure, an end effector is disclosed for an object manipulation device for arranging together into a group two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor. The end effector may include a head portion for attachment to the object manipulation device; two lateral side portions attached to the head portion and spaced for receiving the two articles; and a downstream stop portion for contacting a downstream side of at least one of the two articles. Again, various options and modifications are possible.
  • According to certain other aspects of the disclosure, a method is disclosed of using an object manipulation device to arrange two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor. The method may include contacting the more downstream of the two articles; slowing the more downstream of the two articles; and maintaining contact with the more downstream of the two articles while contacting the more upstream of the two articles without substantially slowing the more upstream article to form a group of the two articles. Again, various options and modifications are possible.
  • These and other features, aspects and advantages of the present invention will become better understood with reference to the following description and appended claims. The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments of the invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • A full and enabling disclosure of the present invention, including the best mode thereof, directed to one of ordinary skill in the art, is set forth in the specification, which makes reference to the appended figures, in which:
  • FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a system for arranging streams of articles according to certain aspects of the present disclosure and having an object manipulation device with a first end effector.
  • FIG. 2 is a side view of the system of FIG. 1.
  • FIG. 3 is a close-up perspective view of a portion of the system of FIG. 1.
  • FIG. 4 is a bottom view of one end effector usable with the system of FIG. 1.
  • FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional view of the end effector of FIG. 4.
  • FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the system as in FIG. 1, having a second end effector.
  • FIGS. 7A-7D are schematic representations of the possible steps used in arranging two groups of articles according to the disclosure.
  • FIG. 8 is a schematic representation of one possible flow along conveyors while groups of articles are arranged according to the disclosure.
  • FIG. 9 is a perspective view of the system as in FIG. 1, having a third end effector.
  • FIG. 10 is a bottom view of the end effector of FIG. 9.
  • FIGS. 11A-11D are schematic representations of possible steps used in arranging two articles using the systems of FIGS. 1-10.
  • FIG. 12 is a schematic representation of another possible flow along conveyors while groups of articles are arranged according to the disclosure.
  • FIGS. 13A and 13B are schematic representations of flow along conveyors according to conventional methods.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • Reference now will be made in detail to embodiments of the invention, one or more examples of which are illustrated in the drawings. Each example is provided by way of explanation of the invention, not limitation of the invention. In fact, it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that various modifications and variations can be made in the present invention without departing from the scope or spirit of the invention. For instance, features illustrated or described as part of one embodiment can be used with another embodiment to yield a still further embodiment. Thus, it is intended that the present invention covers such modifications and variations as come within the scope of the appended claims and their equivalents.
  • FIGS. 1 through 12 show examples of systems, end effectors and methods for arranging articles within a stream of articles moving along a conveyor into groups of at least two articles. The group of articles can be arranged as desired on a conveyor by an object manipulation device such as a robot arm or gantry device for inclusion within a pallet layer or for laning. The grouping can occur in a constant speed environment. All articles need not be grouped, and need not be grouped in pairs. However, grouping allows for fewer object manipulation device movements to orient a pallet layer or control laning. Accordingly, by reducing the number of object manipulation device movements, the pallet layer or laning can be arranged more quickly. For example, the included conveyors may be able to be run at a substantially higher linear speed than conventional conveyors because substantially fewer object manipulation device movements are needed.
  • As shown, a system 100 may include one or more object manipulation devices such as the illustrated robot arm assemblies 102 or such as gantry devices. Each object manipulation device has an end effector assembly 104 for arranging articles received from a feed conveyor 106 while being transmitted on a pallet layer forming or laning conveyor 108. Feed conveyor 106 may be a gapping conveyor or may be downstream from a gapping conveyor. Alternatively, no gapping conveyor could be present, and other methods of spacing articles could be used, such as a pin conveyor, a diverter, gating, etc.
  • As shown articles 110 include multiple containers 112. Such containers 112 could be held together in any conventional fashion or could be held within a box or carton. Therefore, it should be understood that articles 100 could be any palletable or lanable items and could instead be individual items such as boxes.
  • Articles 110 are fed along feed conveyor 106 to reach a position near object manipulation device 102. The illustrated device, robot arm assembly 102, may be mounted on support structure 114 that may be adjacent to either feed 106 or pallet layer forming or laning conveyor 108, or it may extend atop either, depending on the application as discussed below.
  • As shown, end effector assembly 104 includes a head portion 116 attached to an end 118 of the object manipulation device 102. Head potion 116 and end 118 may be, if desired, readily disassembled to switch to a different end effector (see end effector 204 in FIG. 6 and end effector 304 in FIG. 9) if different articles or groupings are to be used.
  • End effector 104 also includes two lateral side portions 120. One or both side portions 120 may be, but need not be, movably attached to head portion 116. As shown, side portions 120 are plates that can both be driven back and forth via a mechanism, which may be for example gears 122 and a chain 124 driven by a motor 128. However, other mechanisms could be used such as gears, belts, hydraulics, pneumatics, etc., to move one or both side portions. Side portions 120 if movable relative to head portion 116, can grip two articles 110 a and 110 b once they are placed together.
  • A downstream stop portion 126 is attached to head portion 116. Stop portion 126 contacts a downstream side of the more downstream article 110 b on conveyor 108. Stop portion 126 need not be driven relative to head portion 116, but could be if desired. Object manipulation device 102 moves along conveyor 108 so that the more downstream article 110 b is contacted and at least slowed until the more upstream of the two articles 110 a contacts the end effector via contacting the more downstream article 110 b. Preferably object manipulation device 102 is moved along conveyor 108 such that the contact between articles 110 a and 110 b occurs without substantially slowing the more upstream article 110 a.
  • End effector 104 may be moved laterally (arrow a), along conveying direction (arrow b), or rotated (arrow c) as desired to place the articles so that a pallet layer or desired laning may be formed downstream in a desired pattern. Thus, continuous motion along conveyor 108 at or about the speed of the conveyor is substantially maintained, and the throughput can beneficially be higher than if full stoppage were achieved or a non-constant speed gapping conveyor were used.
  • FIG. 6 shows system 100 with an alternate end effector 204. As shown, three articles 110 a, 110 b, and 110 c are being grouped between side portions 220. Two stop portions 226 a and 226 b are provided, each attached to one of side portions 220 instead of head portion 216, although only one stop portion could be provided attached to only one side portion or head portion.
  • The operation of system 100 using end effector 204 is substantially similar as using end effector 104. Alternatively, end effector 204 could be used to group only two larger articles 100 (for example 24 containers) instead of three articles of 12 containers as shown.
  • FIGS. 7A-7D show one example of grouping of two articles 110 a and 110 b using end effector 104. As shown, stop portion 126 briefly slows article 110 b until article 110 a contacts end effector 104 via contacting article 110 b. End effector 104 then moves up and out of the way without gripping by side portions 120, although if desired the articles could be moved, gripped and/or arranged differently by sliding or rotating (either with or without gripping).
  • FIG. 8 shows a conveyor 106 which may be a constant feed gapping conveyor downstream of another conveyor 105, which may be for example, the outlet of a shrink tunnel, another packaging conveyor, or any supply conveyor. Conveyor 108 is driven at a speed similar to or the same as conveyor 106 while end effector 104 contacts and groups articles A6 and A7 via contact with stop portion 126, as shown. Articles A8 and A9 are grouped, and may have been arranged by end effector 104 as well.
  • FIG. 9 shows system 100 with an alternate end effector 304. As shown, end effector includes a head portion 316, two lateral side portions 320, and a divider 321. Divider 321 may be a plate as shown. Divider 321 could alternatively be other structures such as rods, multiple smaller plates, etc. End effector 304 is particularly suited to but not limited to use with articles that are substantially longer than they are wide, such as a 6×2 can carton.
  • FIG. 10 shows end effector 304 from below. As shown divider 321 may be located between lateral side portions 320 and upstream of and perpendicular to stop portion 326. If desired divider 321 may include a holding plate 323 on the end opposite stop portion extending toward one or both lateral side portions to assist in holding articles with end effector 304 during positioning on conveyor 108. Divider 321 also assists in holding and aligning articles 310 a and 310 b, but may not be needed to grip and align two articles in all facets of the invention.
  • If desired, end effector 304 may simply be a modified “modular” version of end effector 104. If so, a change out of stop portion 126 for stop portion 326/plate 321/plate 323 can be used to convert end effector 104 to end effector 304. Cooperative attachment hardware could be provided on heads 116/316 and stop portions 126/326 for a rapid changeover in case different articles are to be run in system 100. FIG. 9 shows plates 325 on head 316 removably attached to mounting plates 327 of plate 326 via four twist-lock handles 329. Similar structure (not shown) could be used on heads 116 and 216, if desired. Also, alternate cooperative attachment hardware such as screws, spring loaded pins, cotter pins, clips, etc. could be employed. Alternatively, the system could employ three separate end effectors 104, 204, 304, each attachable to end 118 of robot arm assembly 102 in a modular fashion to allow system 100 to handle different types of articles.
  • FIGS. 11A-11D show an example of grouping articles 310 a and 310 b using end effector 304. As shown, stop portion 326 briefly slows article 310 b (FIG. 11B). End effector 304 moves at least partially laterally, with holding plate 323 ensuring that article 310 b remains within end effector 304. Article 310 a then moves into end effector 304 until it also contacts stop portion 326. At this point articles 310 a and 310 b are located between lateral side portions 320 with divider 321 between them (FIG. 11C). Side portions 320 may be moved inwardly toward articles 310 a and 310 b, either individually after an article is received or together after both articles are received, to secure the articles within end effector 304. In FIG. 11C, from the viewing angle to the side of conveyor 108, articles 310 a and 310 b overlap. In FIG. 11D, head 304 has been rotated 90 degrees and articles 310 a and 310 b have been accordingly rotated 90 degrees so they are both visible.
  • As noted, if articles 310 a and 310 b are being fed to conveyor 108 in a straight line, end effector 304 will move laterally after contacting article 310 b so that article 310 a can fit within end effector 304 on the opposite side of divider 321. If articles are being fed in a staggered line, such lateral movement could be unnecessary.
  • FIG. 12 shows schematically the manipulation of articles so as to form side-by-side groupings. As illustrated, stop portion 326 of end effector 304 first contacts a downstream article (A7) to slow it while an upstream article (A6) slides into position within end effector 304. Articles A8 and A9 are laterally arranged in a group (but not rotated as in FIG. 11D), as are articles A10 and A11.
  • The placement of the articles in any of the systems above is determined by a desired pallet forming or laning algorithm used downstream. Accordingly, any suitable arrangement of articles can be achieved, limited only by the downstream packaging capabilities or desires of the facility. Also, the various end effectors disclosed can be used to arrange one, two, three or more articles at a time, as desired for a given algorithm.
  • It should be understood that characteristics of any of the systems noted above can be mixed or matched for any particular desired application. Thus use of the object manipulation devices such as robot arm assemblies or gantry devices, end effectors, methods and systems herein are not limited to any of the particular arrangements disclosed herein. Any number of robot arm assemblies could be employed. For example, FANUC Robotics M420iA or M710iC/50H Robot Arm Assemblies could be used, along with Fanuc Robotics R30iA or R30iB Robot Controllers. Similarly, various types of commercially available gantry devices could be employed. Programmable Logic Controllers for the systems could be provided by Rockwell Automation/Allen-Bradley, such as CompactLogix or ControlLogix Controllers. Rockwell Automation RSView 5000 software or others could also be employed in such system, if desired.
  • The present invention therefore also includes a method of using an object manipulation device such as a robot arm or gantry device to arrange two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor 108. In its broad sense the method may include contacting the more downstream 110 b, 110 c, 310 b of the two articles, slowing the more downstream of the two articles, and maintaining contact with the more downstream article while contacting the more upstream article 110 a, 110 b, 110 c, 310 a without substantially slowing the more upstream article. The contacting step can as discussed include using an end effector 104, 204, 304 having two lateral side portions 120, 220, 320 and a downstream stop portion 126, 226 a, 226 b, 326. The downstream stop portion may contact a downstream side of the more downstream article. The method can involve arranging the articles along the conveying direction or across the conveying direction within the end effector 104, 204, 304. The method can include change out of the end effector 104, 204, 304 for another end effector so as to allow for different articles to be handled. The method can also include changing out elements of the end effector 104, 204, 304 such as downstream stop portion assemblies (with or without dividing plates 321) to allow for different articles to be handled without removing the entire head assembly from end 118 of the robot arm assembly or a gantry device 102.
  • This written description uses examples to disclose the invention, including the best mode, and also to enable any person skilled in the art to practice the invention, including making and using any devices or systems and performing any incorporated methods. The patentable scope of the invention is defined by the claims, and may include other examples that occur to those skilled in the art. Such other examples are intended to be within the scope of the claims if they include structural elements that do not differ from the literal language of the claims, or if they include equivalent structural elements with insubstantial differences from the literal languages of the claims.

Claims (26)

1. A system for arranging articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor, the system comprising:
an object manipulation device movable and configured to form a group of two of the articles in the line together by contacting and slowing the more downstream of the two articles and then contacting the more upstream of the two articles without substantially slowing the more upstream article.
2. The system of claim 1, wherein the object manipulation device includes an end effector having a head, two lateral side portions attached to the head, and a downstream stop portion for contacting a downstream side of at least one of the two articles.
3. The system of claim 2, wherein at least one of the lateral side portions is movable toward the other lateral side portion for gripping the two articles.
4-6. (canceled)
7. The system of claim 2, further including a divider attached to the head between the lateral side portions.
8. (canceled)
9. The system of claim 1, wherein the object manipulation device is drivable so as to move the group relative to the conveying direction to arrange the group for forming a desired orientation downstream.
10-11. (canceled)
12. The system of claim 1, wherein the object manipulation device is drivable so as to move the group with constant motion along and synchronized with the conveyor.
13. (canceled)
14. An end effector for an object manipulation device for arranging together into a group two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor, the end effector comprising:
a head portion for attachment to the object manipulation device;
two lateral side portions attached to the head portion and spaced for receiving the two articles; and
a downstream stop portion for contacting a downstream side of at least one of the articles.
15. The end effector of claim 14, wherein at least one of the lateral side portions is movable relative to the head portion and toward the other lateral side portion for gripping two articles.
16. The end effector of claim 14, wherein the downstream stop portion is attached to the head portion.
17. The end effector of claim 14, wherein the downstream stop portion is attached to one of the lateral side portions.
18. The end effector of claim 17, further including a second downstream stop portion attached to the other of the lateral side portions.
19. The end effector of claim 14, further including a divider attached to the head between the lateral side portions.
20. The end effector of claim 19, where the divider is attached to the head via the downstream stop portion.
21. A method of using an object manipulation device to arrange two articles within a stream of articles moving spaced apart and in a line in a conveying direction on a conveyor, the method comprising:
contacting the more downstream of the two articles;
slowing the more downstream of the two articles; and
maintaining contact with the more downstream of the two articles while contacting the more upstream of the two articles without substantially slowing the more upstream article to form a group of the two articles.
22-26. (canceled)
27. The method of claim 21, further including driving the object manipulation device so as to move the group laterally relative to the conveying direction to arrange the group for forming a desired orientation downstream.
28. The method of claim 21, further including driving the object manipulation device so as to move the group along the conveying direction to arrange the group for forming a desired orientation downstream.
29. The method of claim 21, further including driving the object manipulation device so as to rotate the group relative to the conveying direction to arrange the group for forming a desired orientation downstream.
30. The method of claim 21, further including driving the object manipulation device so as to move the group with constant motion along the conveyor.
31. (canceled)
32. The method of claim 21, wherein the maintaining step includes driving the object manipulation device so that the more upstream of the two articles contacts the more downstream of the two articles along the conveying direction within an end effector having a head and two lateral side portions attached to the head.
33. The method of claim 21, wherein the maintaining step includes driving the object manipulation device so that the more upstream of the two articles is located laterally to the more downstream of the two articles along the conveying direction within an end effector having a head, two lateral side portions attached to the head, and a divider attached to the head between the lateral side portions, the more upstream and more downstream articles ending up on opposite sides of the divider.
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